Home | Industry+Policy | Wealthy, healthy and well connected: growing old in rural and remote Australia

Wealthy, healthy and well connected: growing old in rural and remote Australia

The Australian Journal of Rural Health has released a special issue this month that focuses on growing old in rural, regional and remote Australia.

Made up of 13 research papers, the journal shows that ageing is about more than just institutionalised care, illness and death.

According to joint guest editors Dr Evelien Spelten (La Trobe University) and Professor Oliver Burmeister (Charles Sturt University), Australia has “a rapidly ageing population, that is also wealthier, better educated, better housed, and contributes more to both paid and volunteer work”.

Because of this, they argue we need to rethink our approach to growing old, while also acknowledging that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to aged care wont work in rural and remote areas.

Professor Russell Roberts, the AJRH editor in chief, emphasised the positive outcomes of the work done in this special issue.

“The Australian issue of Health and Welfare basically say that older Australians have never been as healthy, as wealthy, as well educated, and as well housed. Sixty per cent are socially active and 20 per cent of all childcare [for those aged] under 11 is provided by people over 65,” he said.

“So, there’s a tremendous contribution and there’s a real opportunity, I think, for councils to engage these active, healthy, wealthy older people in social participation and the community fabric, which will be great for the community and it will be great for them.”

Keeping older Aussies living in rural and remote communities engaged socially for longer is key to a healthy population, Russell said, and will save us money in the long run.

“It will reduce the percentage of time they’ll need to go into having high care, whether that’s residential care or in-home care. By having them more engaged cognitively and physically, it means that percentage of time when someone is severely cognitively or physically limited is much, much smaller. That’s a really important thing as well.

“The data says that we are getting healthier, we’re living longer. The period of time when people suffer severe functional limitation is about the same, it’s just that it’s occurring later in life, so we’ve got more healthy years,” he said.

Russell also stressed the importance of bringing the levels of care in rural areas in line with metro areas. He pointed to the work of Kate Jackson in the journal as an example of bringing experts, clinicians and older people together to find out what care works best.

“When you put those three things together, you actually get fantastic outcomes, along with a long-term commitment. This is not a one- or two-year thing, this is an ongoing dialogue and relationship, and that was one of the great examples of the Jackson study, in fact, that looked at how they managed to get rural services at equal levels to Northern Sydney. It can happen, but it just really takes a bit of a commitment,” Russell said.

Aged Care Insite spoke with Dr Evelien Spelten to find out more about this special issue.

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